The Body of English Literature
(September 28, 2006; I don't know if this is autobiographical or not)
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When they dissected her brain, they found the cause of her life while searching for the cause of death. The first doctor to have a look called his colleagues to his side, seeking a second opinion that might make any sense; they ringed her open skull and surveyed its contents with identical frowns of scientific dismay. One thought it was an unusually thorough fungus, another deemed it cancer and looked no further, but the third was unconvinced. She leaned in, fogging the betadine-anointed forceps with exhalations filtered by her mask, and she scanned the slate-coloured creases. They were overlaid and shot through with bands of darkness, branching tributaries that wove at random throughout the dead girl's exposed wetware.
The third doctor sent the second for a magnifying glass, and as the first doctor winced at her intrusion, she steadied the lens under the table's lights. The blurred edges of a line thicker than most of its companions sharpened under her gaze; she stiffened, freezing in place as if transfixed. Before the others could move to peer over her shoulder, she whispered, like a child reciting a poem memorized without comprehension:
... as I danced, I sang my joy to the moon, and she molded me into the bas relief model of myself, silvered and perfect...
The physicians took turns staring at the words wending their way across the mottled grey surface, phrases in 4-pt font - Tahoma and Courier dominating - that stopped and started and melted together at random intersections. Some were too small to make out - just bleary hints of too-minute descriptions - while others marched proudly atop the brain like variegated vocabulary insects. In a moment of stunned courage, the second doctor reached in with her most precise pair of tweezers, plucking from the folds a letter that was just barely visible near the top of the medulla. At first glance, it was just a curve and a spear, but its straight-backed support came into view a moment later. As she tugged, it separated from the tissue with a soft tearing sound, bringing with it a string of others which dangled in the air: RUBIK'S CUBE ENNUI. The doctor looked at her fellows and shrugged; the incongruous words twitched for a moment, then crumbled for want of their host's warmth.
Protocol was forgotten as they tore her apart. The first doctor insisted on an assult kit, which helped them discover the remnants of a sonnet tucked inside her; the second drilled into her hip bones, finding nests of metaphors and descriptive phrases like hidden simile families hidden in her marrow. A tissue sample glimpsed under the microscope revealed that each of her freckles was forged from a thousand instances of "a" and "the." The third was intrepid, and she searched the girl's sinews, finding that the tendons in her hands were strung with verbs.
"She must have been a lawyer. She ran on fine print," remarked the anatomist who erroneously considered himself the funny one.
As they cut and drained her body, the words seemed divided; some leaked from her, partiples dangling from bits of severed skin, infinitives splitting at the seams as if unsure of where they wished to quietly flow. Other phrases turned back toward her organs, wrapping themselves up inside her heart and lungs as if hoping to evade detection. The doctors probed and prodded, but whenever they examined a given bit of text too closely, it fell into disrepair, withering into nothing. The day passed, and as the room grew more artificial in appearance while the sun set outside of its windows, their task drew to its natural close. The three were up to their elbows in the most thoroughly autopsied body any of them had ever seen, but no words remained.
They never mentioned the incident again, to each other or to anyone else, but its mystery remained. The third doctor in particular felt that she had missed something, failed to understand the significance of what she had dissected. They were words and words and words, but what did they mean, and where did they go?
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